Editor's Note: Because Stellar Women in e-Discovery operates on its own publication schedule, you may notice an episode or two missing, or appearing out of order, in our blog coverage of the show. To ensure you don't miss any insights, find Stellar Women in your favorite podcast app and follow along to catch each episode as it airs.
For this episode of Stellar Women, we made our way around the globe—virtually, of course—to catch up with some of the women who make up the Control Risks global task force. It was enlightening to hear their unique perspectives on this profession and how to be successful.
Joining us are Joanne Fung from the States, Kimlynne Olivier from South Africa, and Satinder Soni from the UK. Much like our scattered geographies, our conversation touched on an array of topics from the challenges and opportunities of working across time zones to sponsorship versus mentorship, and even what’s like to own an eco-friendly eco-lodge home to hippos.
Mary Rechtoris: Hey Stellar Women fans. I'm your host, Mary Rechtoris.
Mila Taylor: And I'm your co-host, Mila Taylor. Stellar Women shines a light on female leaders making their mark in tech.
MR: Today we are excited to welcome Kim Olivier, Sati Soni, and Joanne Fung from Control Risks. Kim, Sati, and Joanne come from different parts of the globe. Thank you all for joining us, no matter what time it is where you are, and for being super flexible. We're glad to have you all.
Kim Olivier: Thank you. It's good to be here!
MR: Joanne, why don't we start with you? What's your favorite part about working in e-discovery?
Joanne Fung: You know, my favorite part about working in e-discovery is working with the different types of clients we come across in our projects. In my experience, no clients are the same. I think that all PMs can say the same thing about their clients. Because of the nature of e-discovery projects, they allow project managers to be flexible in our workflows, and we can use our experience and the technologies available to us to customize workflows that best fit our clients’ needs. It's not a one-size-fits-all model that we use for our clients. That makes things more fun and interesting. For instance, a client who is facing litigation with the DOJ will have a very different workflow than, say, a client who is facing just a simple production to defense counsel. For me, being able to have these different types of clients to work with makes things very interesting and keeps things interesting for the clients. It's also a great way to build relationships with all these different people.
MR: Kim, what's your favorite part about working in this field?
KO: For me, it's the technology. It keeps changing because it's more advanced and more cost effective. I go back to being a paralegal and having to do document review in paper format and Post-it notes. For me, I get quite a kick out of the technology. There's a bit of adrenaline when you're almost like a magician to your clients. When you save them time and effort, it keeps impressing them.
MR: I love that analogy. Sati, what about you?
Sati Soni: I've been in the industry for over 15 years, and I've seen it at its infancy and how it's evolved over the years. Like Kim said, the problem-solving aspect appeals to me. Each project is unique with the same set of complexities and you constantly think outside of the box for solutions on how you can bring different types of technologies together to create an efficient and meaningful process. I also like the nicheness of the industry and the tight knit community that we have. But when you zoom out and look at it from a holistic perspective, e-discovery is a real crucial part of the legal process and I've worked on some high-profile matters in the past and felt immensely proud that I played a part in that.
MT: Joanne, you touched on before how the world is becoming smaller and smaller. We have seen more often, companies have offices all over the world. Can you talk about how the different offices at Control Risks work together throughout the globe?
JF: Yes, absolutely. I'd have to say that one of the things that Control Risks excels in, compared with other firms that I have worked with, is their ability to be efficient and effective on cross-border matters. I think this is due to how well we work together to bring out a true follow-the-sun model. There are a couple ways that I think we excel on this. The first is how well the PM teams work together in terms of their excellent working relationships. Because we have great working relationships with each other, naturally, this translates into the work product for our clients. The other way that we work well is the support that's available for our teams anywhere around the globe. We've got Relativity experts that are on the East Coast, we've got Relativity expert who's in Australia, and that kind of thing. We have great team members who do a great job. We also have excellent support systems behind us to provide the best support for our clients and the best work product.
MR: Kim, you're in Johannesburg, correct?
KO: I am. Yes.
MR: What have you found are some challenges that you faced, whether at Control Risks or working at other global companies, when you have people working across time zones? What's been successful for you when navigating those challenges?
KO: I think it's a case of we still only have 24 hours in a day, and deadlines move. As Joanne said, the “chasing the sun” ethos works quite well at Control Risks, because there's always somebody who can pick up once you run out of daylight. We've got one of the best processing teams I've ever worked with. They are extremely effective, like a well-oiled machine, which means that as a project manager, you actually have time to focus on the client-facing problems or challenges. It's also more personalized, because we get to spend more time with the client rather than trying to navigate our way through the data. Then the collaboration; I like the well-oiled machine idea because I have the confidence that if I go to sleep tonight, someone else will pick it up and it will get done and it will get done to a standard that we're all striving for and used to.
MT: It really makes a powerful team knowing that I can go to sleep or tend to my children or take a vacation and still have full confidence that my team, no matter where they are, is [producing] work at the same standard. Kim, you touched on the benefit having employees across different time zones but Sati, what do you do think is the biggest benefit of having a global workforce?
SS: The benefits of having boots on the ground mean that we understand local culture and the language nuances. We get info on local country laws. We worked on a matter where a global company that was headquartered in Germany had an issue in the China office. We had to ensure that we posted the data in both countries and hosted in their respective local jurisdictions, abiding German local privacy laws and Chinese state secret laws.
MR: Control Risks obviously has its core culture, but what have you seen when working with your colleagues? What's consistent and where some of the variances? Joanne, we’ll start with you.
JF: Sure. In terms of the different locales and the different offices, I'd say that the camaraderie is consistent across all the offices at Control Risks. I feel like they work together and they understand that because of certain client expectations in different places, we all know that we need to work together to provide them with the best support. Also, we need to work together to make sure that everyone has an equal balance with the type of work. We see that as consistent across all the offices. In terms of differences, I think I see the most differences in terms of the requirements of the litigation of our clients more anything, not so much in the culture. In the US, I feel like litigation requires things like the production of documents, which we don't see as much in the different global locations. We do projects with the APAC team or the EMEA team and they don't do as many productions. So, we work with them in a way that they can take care of the work that does not have the productions, leaving us time to be doing other things.
KO: In South Africa, was are still in the early stages or the infancy of the use of e-discovery and e-discovery software. In fact, our uniform rules don't incorporate e-discovery into the legal process, and it's something that they've been trying to get written in for the last five years. So sometimes, I feel that we are at least 10-15 years behind. The great thing about that is that even though I am trying to spread awareness and trying to teach the benefits of having Relativity, I have the experience of my colleagues behind me. In South Africa, we are not trying to reinvent the wheel because it's already invented. I can sit back and rely on my colleagues already having the experience and us just getting on with it. I did 12 years of e-discovery in London before I came back to South Africa, and it is like stepping back in time.
MR: Do you see opportunity in that Kim, in terms of educating your clients or the region in general, because you've had that expertise in London and you have colleagues where the regions are a little bit more mature?
KO: Definitely. Also, if the pandemic has taught us anything, it's to embrace technology. There's definitely a hunger for technology, assisted review, and active learning. I did a presentation last week to a chamber of advocates and they loved it. They loved what the technology can do for them.
MT: Kind of switching gears from work. A question I want to ask all of you is, what's something that you're passionate or excited about outside of work?
JF: I'm actually a big runner. Because I'm not in an office daily, people don't really know that about me. I've done a few marathons in my life and one of the biggest disappointments when it came to running marathons was I was two minutes off from qualifying for the Boston Marathon a few years ago. I mean, that measly two minutes is still kind of haunting me to this day. It doesn't stop me from running though. That's something I've always been passionate about, and I will be until my knees fail me.
MR: Mila, aren't you training for a triathlon?
MT: Touchy subject. I was training for a triathlon and I was raising money for the Rural Fire Services in New South Wales in Australia, where I'm from, after the bushfires. I was training and then COVID. Because I'm in Chicago, I can't just swim at the beach. The gym where I train has a pool and bikes so I was there. Then, COVID hit and everything shut down. I was kind of like, well, should I still be training for this thing because I don’t even know what's going to happen? They just announced it's not happening. I'm trying to figure out a way to do my own triathlon because I raised a good amount of money and I did a decent amount of training. So, TBD! Running is definitely not my passion. I'm jealous that you enjoy it because while I'm doing it, I am counting the seconds until it’s over.
JF: Well, at least for the triathlon, you've got two other sports that you can look forward to.
MT: I’ll just be running and trying to stay alive.
MR: Kim, what's something you love doing outside of work?
KO: I'm a co-owner of the lodge in the middle of one of our biggest rivers. For the last five years, we've tried to reduce the impact on the environment. The idea is to eventually get to a point where it's entirely ecofriendly. It's not that easy, because I'm based in Johannesburg and the lodge is in the middle of the bush. It’s about five hours away. I don't get to spend as much time as I would like to, but in the last five years, we've managed to attract some of the hippos back as well as the Cape clawless otter. It’s quite rewarding because they've left the area and they're very seldomly seen and it's good to know that whatever we’re doing has made them feel safe to come back. It's probably my big-scheme retirement plan. I don't think I'm anywhere near giving up the corporate world, but eventually it would be nice to just go and sit next to the river and do absolutely nothing.
MR: Wow, I've so many questions. That's so cool. Hippos—they look super nice, but fairly dangerous?
KO: Yeah, they are one of the most dangerous animals and they probably do more damage than sharks and snakes and all these things that we perceive to be dangerous combined.
MR: Their teeth are huge, right?
KO: They are. Yes. And they they're very temperamental as well and territorial, so generally, the advice is to leave them be and they'll leave you alone.
MR: Fantastic. Sati, What about you?
SS: Well, I can't beat hippos and I also can't beat a triathlon. I'm not a runner either. Since lockdown has happened, I'm passionate about literally everything. Just a drive to the supermarket seems like a really exciting thing to do at the moment. When things were normal, I was really into nutrition. I still am. I am passionate about superfoods and looking at remedies. The gut is the center of your wellbeing. By looking after that, you're looking after everything. There’s a lot on mental wellbeing as well. I'm really interested in how that and foods help with your moods.
MR: What are some superfoods that people don't know about? I feel like avocados are super trendy right now. Everyone loves a good avocado toast. But is there anything else? Something where you say this is a food that you should be eating.
SS: Yeah, I mean, a lot of it's from South America and Africa actually. There is amaranth which is a powder base that helps with detoxing. And there’s pomegranate—I don't know if people know that pomegranate improves memory. Baobab—that's all come from Africa—is good for blood sugars. If you're feeling completely unwell, a black pepper corn is a good thing to put into your drinks to help absorb nutrients.
MR: Awesome! All very different, but all equally exciting passions. Thanks for sharing. A big part of Stellar Women is about inspiring and elevating up-and-coming leaders in the field. You all are at different points in your career, but I'd love for you to share one piece of advice you would give to an aspiring female leader in e-discovery. Joanne, we can start with you.
JF: The one piece of advice that I would give to aspiring female leaders in the field, given my experience, is that it's important to take the time to build relationships along the way. That isn't just relationships with people with whom you perceive to be important, but anyone you work with. That could be your colleagues, your admin assistant, your director, your managing director, or whoever it might be. Whoever you might meet along the way, I think it's important to build great relationships because you never know what position you might find yourself in. You may be able to help them or you’re in a position where they can help you along the way too. I think it's important for us females to really build that network of relationships. I know a lot of people don't like to go network, but you know, your colleagues are your network, so you can start there. For the ladies out there, build your network and build out your contacts because you never know when they might come in handy in the future.
MR: That's a great point. Mila and I chatted with Stephanie Clerkin of Korein Tillery earlier this year when shelter-in-place really started, and she was talking about how you can network in these times. [It is important] especially for people that are trying to build their network or interested in other opportunities. There's just a lot out there in terms of virtual coffees or happy hours or lunches. There's a lot you can even do in the current climate and expand your network and probably even broaden it compared to avenues that we were pursuing before. Kim, what would you share to aspiring females in the field?
KO: A colleague recently told me that she hates the word mentor, and she prefers sponsor. It's just that sentence had such an impact on me because I realized that we don't promote each other enough. We often say “I'm available to mentor” and “I'm available to give you hints and tips on how I got to a certain point,” but we don't support each other or sell each other's abilities. From my point of view, if your female colleague excels, we should celebrate their achievement and we should help them climb the ladder by sponsoring and elevating them and by selling their abilities to clients and to our own network so that we're actually pushing each other up rather than just standing next to each other and patting each other on the back.
MR: Love that. That’s something you read about or hear about—sponsor versus mentor. They have different definitions. Both are valuable; it depends on what you're looking for in your career and out of that relationship.
SS: We advise women to look around the room and think if that person wants to go into the boardroom, would they champion you? Target those people and build those relationships. You shouldn't be afraid of that. With that, I would advise, what's worked for me all these years, is that you can only be yourself. Someone once told me that no one can ever argue with how you think. If you feel a certain way, you should communicate it and no one can argue with that. It’s how you feel and it’s personal to you. It also means that you're being open and transparent. Hopefully those sorts of behaviors are reciprocated. If you can promote that by starting it for yourself, then you're on your way, I feel.
MR: Thank you all so much for joining Mila and me. It was great to catch up with all of you.
JF: Thank you so much for having us.
MR: And for Stellar Women, I'm Mary Rechtoris.
MT: And I'm Mila Taylor
MR & MT: Signing off.